The Word

about Centennial’s Corporate Communications + PR program

Finding your best fit

Posted by bwaite on June 2, 2009

Grad Shannon Morton

Grad Shannon Morton

By Shoneez Munshi, Class of 2009

On the surface, Shannon Morton had it all. She had earned a degree in English literature from Queen’s University in 2001 and found success working at IBM in dispute resolution. But she had an itch to do more. She wasn’t satisfied; she didn’t feel challenged and she knew she could achieve more.

She heard from friends about the Corporate Communications and Public Relations program at Centennial College. She decided to take the risk and leave IBM. So in 2003, she cashed in her stocks and decided to go for it.

“Because I had just come out of the workforce, I didn’t take the experience of going back to school for granted,” says Morton.  She threw herself into her classes with fervour and relished being back at school. As a result of her hard work, Morton received IABC’s Kay Staib Memorial Award for earning the highest marks in her class.

After completing the program in April 2004, she then when on to do her internship at High Road Communications, an agency that deals with technology and lifestyle companies. Morton originally hoped to gain a position out of her internship, but, when it was over, there were no openings. She knew it wasn’t meant to be.

Within a few weeks of leaving High Road, Morton learned of an opening at Apex Public Relations.  “As soon as I walked in, I felt like I was coming home,” says Morton.  Right away, Morton ‘fell in love’ with her firm’s president Pat McNamara, and account director, Erin Hardy.

“I got a warm, fuzzy feeling about Apex,” says Morton.  She knew she had finally found her best fit.

She works with clients such as UPS, Bank of Montreal, George Brown College and Toronto Hydro.  Morton loves her job and has been with Apex Public Relations for almost five years. She was recently promoted to the position of senior consultant.

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Grad’s work has global impact

Posted by bwaite on June 1, 2009

by Uma Chandran, Class of 2009


Grad Sabita Singh

When Sabita Singh starts work each morning at Sun Life Financial, she feels a great sense of pride.  As the director of digital communications, Singh leads the company’s global digital communications strategy – a rare role for a Toronto-based communicator.

“It’s exciting to have the ability to shape the digital footprint of an international company,” she says.  “I’m proud of my work because it has a global impact on our web presence in the US, the UK, Asia and other regions around the world.”

Singh, an Accredited Business Communicator (ABC), graduated from the Corporate Communications program in 1989.  She entered the PR field through her internship and, since then, has worked in many different sectors including real estate, pharmaceutical, high tech and financial services.

Singh spent more than 10 years doing internal communications in various roles, including three years as a manager at Sprint Canada.  It was there that she first had experience with digital communications, managing the company’s intranet site, and quickly realized that she had found her niche. 

“Digital communications is great because it’s always changing; it’s easy to measure and it’s never boring, especially with the introduction of social media which is revolutionizing the way we communicate.”

With her new interest in digital communications, Singh took her expertise to AstraZeneca Canada, iStudio and to her current position at Sun Life Financial.

“I’m always thinking about what I want to do next,” Singh says.

Singh’s determination and initiative have been recognized by her peers numerous times through awards including an IABC Ovation Award, a CPRS Creative Excellence Award and an IABC Gold Quill Award. An award-winning project she is most proud of is the redesign in 2008.

Using the strategic planning tools that she learned years ago at Centennial College, Singh led the transformation of the company’s international website. The website is now user friendly, incorporates social media and, because of improved search engine optimization, now ranks higher in search engines like Google.

 “In one year, we’ve come so far in the digital world. It’s exciting to be a part of a company that recognizes the importance of the web in communicating with its customers, employees and other diverse audiences. We’re moving from behind the times to leading the way in a short period of time.”

 Singh attributes her impressive successes to her strong will and hard work. However, she also enthusiastically credits the Corporate Communications program for teaching her all the right skills.

 “Everything I learned at Centennial, I’ve used in the workforce. It’s all practical – writing, editing, graphic design, strategy… I really do credit my success to Centennial,” she says. “I have a lot of respect for the program. It’s a great starting point for the field.”

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Jacquie Fabro’s smart choice

Posted by bwaite on June 1, 2009

 By Natalia Dobrynina, Class of 2009


Grad Jacquie Fabro

The questions that occupy most managers’ minds are:  how to improve relations between employer and employees, how to raise the company’s productivity and how to boost the overall morale of the organization.

Benefits are the one area where companies often need an outsider’s help to represent this information to their employees correctly so staff can understand and appreciate the value of the perks on offer.

Jacquie Fabro, a communication consultant with Morneau Sobeco and a graduate of Centennial’s Corporate Communications and Public Relations program, provides managers and employees with advice and information support in a most important, but quite complicated area, pensions and benefits. “My challenge is to explain this complex subject to the employees that they can appreciate and value it.”

Centennial’s program caught Fabro’s attention from the first moment when she came to the college. And she has been building her career with employee communications since the graduation.

“The program was split evenly between corporate communications and public relations back in 2003,” recalls Fabro. “And I chose corporate communication to be my passion and professional interest.”

As a student, Fabro learned important skills that prepared for her future job. “Our teachers connected with us and tried to pull out things from us to help us succeed professionally and personally.”

One of the lessons that comes immediately to mind is writing for PR purposes. Loving writing and having a major in the professional writing from the University of Ottawa, she started to realize the difference between academic and PR writing styles. “Writing at the university was mostly wordy, indescribable, and completely opposite of PR writing. It took me some time to get accustomed to precise, concise PR writing.”

The tactics for PR writing she learned at Centennial align with her present-day reality. Her job, as for any other communicator, is to find the most effective ways to reach her audience.  “To get your information accepted by the audience, to make them want to do what you intend them to do means your message should be short and simple. This is what I learned and what happens every day in my job. Get to your point right away. You have only few minutes of the audience’s attention – you don’t want to miss it.”

Working as a communications consultant for Canada’s largest pension and benefits consulting and outsourcing firm, she provides communication services to a broad variety of clients – from small and middle-size companies to large corporations.

Fabro meets with clients, conducts focus groups, and prepares presentations, newsletters and print materials that make complicated information about the benefits and pension plans clear to employees.

“We usually start from the clients’ expectations and needs. It’s not so rare that they don’t know what they really want or need in terms of communications. We help them to determine the plan that suits their corporate culture and situation the best. To be close to employees does not necessarily guarantee understanding them better. We can communicate in a neutral way.”

Her position requires versatility, lots of patience, and hours of writing, some knowledge of social psychology and the ability to be “communications inventor.” Mix together but do not stir. That’s a recipe for the successful corporate communicator.

For PR tenderfoots she shares this advice:  “Keep your mind open! Everyone wants a glamorous PR job but it might not be as interesting and fascinating as you expect. So, be open for different opportunities and always speak up. Never be afraid to share your ideas.”

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Grad wins significant award

Posted by bwaite on May 11, 2009

Marta Sinyard joined the CC+PR program in January 2002.  She completed her Field Placement internship with St. Joseph’s Media, under the direction of communicator Christine DiSiato.  Marta’s  been there ever since, earning a number of promotions and increasing her responsibilities.

Our 2008 Chairman’s Award Recipient

If there is an opportunity to learn something new, this associate is there with no hesitation. She views every opportunity as a chance to learn and grow into a valued but humble associate.

She is a strong advocate of using recycled stocks for all communications. She is involved in St. Joseph Partners in Growth program and is an active member of the Environmental task force; it’s evident she is all about saving the environment and will step up and do whatever it takes to make it happen. And she feels guilty when using styrofoam cups for her coffee.

It is with honour that we introduce St. Joseph Print’s 2008 Chairman’s Award.

Recipient of St. Joseph Print's 2008 Chairman's Award - Marta Sinyard

Recipient of St. Joseph Print's 2008 Chairman's Award - Marta Sinyard

Marta started with St. Joseph Communications on July 7, 2004 as a part-time intern in the Corporate Communications & Marketing department.

Through her dedication and hard work, she quickly became the full-time Communications Coordinator, and was given the immense responsibilities of planning and executing some of St. Joseph Communications major associate initiatives, including Partners in Growth, Volunteer Day, and of course, Chairman’s Award.

As St. Joseph’s Associate Manager, Corporate Communications, she is a passionate and enthusiastic associate, willing to pitch in wherever needed.

Our sincerest congratulations Marta!

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Grad doesn’t consider PR “The Dark Side”

Posted by bwaite on May 11, 2009

Grad Bruce Williams

Grad Bruce Williams

By William Lin, Class of 2009

Two decades ago, Bruce Williams covered a murder in East York. It was to be his last story.

A Centennial College journalism student, Williams spent late evenings toiling on the student-run East York Observer. He covered fairly routine stories, from advertisements on garbage trucks to an apartment protest where tenants set furniture on fire. But, he was bothered by the murder.

“That’s sort of what led me to not want to be a journalist, because part of that was having to interview the family of the murdered person. And, I just couldn’t do it,” Williams said. He was also frustrated by the lack of creativity while writing sports copy at his placement at 680 News.

So, after graduating in 1992, he took Centennial’s then two-year corporate communications program, where his writing and design skills found a new home. Today, Williams works as Centennial’s advertising manager in the marketing department, a return full circle to his alma mater. He credits Centennial’s corporate communications program for his career.

“It gives you a fair bit of breadth of knowledge and skills, and that’s what I enjoyed about it. It’s not just focused on writing. It’s designing, writing, editing. It’s interviewing,” he said.

Like reporting, his current job is deadline-driven; he gets three to four calls a day from college departments asking for brochures, posters and mini-marketing plans to promote programs. Williams is responsible for two designers, handles mass media advertising and creates ads for courses and programs. It’s his first marketing position, but Williams said the skills are transferrable from corporate communications. “You just kind of tweak your thinking a bit.”

When Williams refers to his journalism background, he often gets wry comments. “They say ‘oh, so you’ve come over the dark side,” he said. “I don’t think marketing has to be seen as dark. I think if you have a good product or a good service or whatever it is, you’re promoting those benefits and services in an ethical way, there’s nothing dark about that,” he said.

In fact, Williams has always used his communications skills to aid others. After graduating, he did contract work for Canada Housing Mortgage Corporation and the Ontario Heritage Foundation. He then spent three years at Goodwill Industries of Toronto and another three at what was then known as Foster Parents Plan.

He was eventually hired as a communications coordinator at Centennial after bumping into the marketing director at a magazine store one afternoon. He was soon promoted to advertising manager.
“That’s another way I can justify being in marketing and communications. I’m working for organizations that help better lives. It’s not like I’m other there on the street talking to people and helping them, but I’m contributing in some small way.”

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Grad enjoys working for Ontario government

Posted by bwaite on May 11, 2009

Julia Holliday

Grad Julia Holliday

By Nicole Bachan, Class of 2009

Fiona and Sean, two appropriately named prized shamrocks, strategically nestle neatly under the lights in the corner of Julia Holliday’s desk. She is a graduate of the Corporate Communications and Public Relations (CC&PR) program and director of the Web and Interactive Marketing department at the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation (OTMPC).

Although Holliday nurtures these shamrock plants, the luck of the Irish is by no means the reason for Holliday’s successful career.

Holliday, who graduated in the late 80’s, really enjoys her job at the OTMPC and attributes her success to the CC&PR program at Centennial College. “If I hadn’t taken that program at Centennial College, I wouldn’t be sitting here,” she says.

At 28, married and with two children, Holliday found out through a friend about the merits of enrolling in the then two-year CC& PR program. She registered for the program as she felt confident in her writing. “I’d always been a really good writer,” Holliday said, and, naturally, decided to pursue her career along those lines.

With Holliday’s previous writing experience at Aon Reed Stenhouse Insurance Brokerage Communications’ Department producing internal and external publications, Holliday knew the CC&PR program was a right fit.

As a result, following her internship at the Department of Public Health, she landed a six-month contract at the OTMPC. This resulted in her present seven years of success at this corporation.

Holliday’s assessment of the CC&PR Program courses is “extremely useful.” She appreciated the journalistic writing aspect, the photography course, and the creative thinking prods from Christine Smith, the program coordinator.

Now, with a team of six, managing 13 different websites, Holliday highlighted the “skills around thinking creatively and strategically,” “writing effectively,” and “analyzing annual reports,” as proficiencies she uses consistently as part of web marketing. She also frequently works strategically with the director and on other specific projects with an advertising team.

Her greatest challenge now is “the new trend of social media,” she said. “You have to be strategic in thinking. It’s not always the right strategy.” Holliday is interested in using social media to advertise the customer experience. However, “challenges from the government and privacy laws” restrict content. “Many resources have to go into it,” Holliday said.

Having both this CC&PR education and work experience, Holliday offered this advice. “It’s always overwhelming, but put discipline in it” and “be very confident; confidence is like three quarters of it.”

It appears only the shamrocks know the final quarter to Holliday’s continued success.

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Grad recommends not-for-profit sector

Posted by bwaite on March 26, 2009

Grad Virginia Middleton

Grad Virginia Middleton

By T.J. Goertz, Class of 2009

Anyone looking to enter the exciting, rewarding world of not-for-profit communications should look to Virginia Middleton for inspiration.

A 2005 graduate of Centennial’s Corporate Communications and Public Relations program, Middleton has parlayed her love of PR into a dream job at Kids Help Phone in downtown Toronto. She was hired there in August, 2007, after a successful internship with the St. John’s Fog Devils hockey team and a year working with Palette PR, a Toronto-based boutique agency.

While only in her second year at Kids Help Phone, Middleton already says she’s definitely in it for the long haul at the youth telephone and Internet counselling organization.

“At the end of the day, you’re helping to do something really good. I know that sounds cheesy and lame, but it’s true … at Kids Help Phone it’s a really unique situation. It’s fun to go to work.”

Small team handles a lot

As one of only two full-time members of her department, Middleton uses many of the skills she learned while at Centennial, ranging from media relations to event management to writing editorial copy.

“I’m really glad I decided to go to Centennial. So many things I think were triggered from that. If I hadn’t learned some of the skills and taken the courses in the program, I don’t think I’d be in such a great position as I am now.” She admits she didn’t have much PR experience before entering grad school.

Choosing Centennial College’s PR program meant relocating far from home for this 2004 graduate of Memorial University in Newfoundland.

The 27-year-old is on Kids Help Phone front line when it comes to media relations. She has already gotten some big-time event management experience when she worked closely on a local and national level with Kids Help Phone’s biggest fundraiser – the Bell Walk for Kids Help Phone – last May. Middleton has been tagged to lead the event’s PR and advertising planning in 2010, something she’s really looking forward to.

“If there’s one thing I could brag about for Kids Help Phone, it’s the mentoring. My manager supports me so much,” says Middleton, a native of Newfoundland. “And our senior leadership team is amazing.”

As one of Canada’s leading authorities on youth-related issues, Kids Help Phone is frequently contacted by the media for expert commentary on hot button issues such as violence or cyber-bullying. That lets Middleton go home knowing she has made a positive difference.

“It’s also great that when you’re doing the PR and media relations; we’re not the bad guy. We’re not a big corporation chopping down trees or destroying the environment. We’re helping children,” she says.

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Grad loving the excitement of a small agency

Posted by bwaite on March 12, 2009


Grad Kate Hillyar

by Leanne Bull, Class of 2009

Less than a year after graduating from Centennial’s Corporate Communications and Public Relations (CC+PR) program, Kate Hillyar went on her first press tour – to the Dominican Republic.

Press tours are one of Hillyar’s many responsibilities in her position at Siren Communications. Siren is an agency specializing in public relations for travel and tourism. “Our clients include five-star resorts in the Caribbean, United States, Europe and Canada,” Hillyar says. “One of our clients is the entire country of the Dominican Republic.”

Hillyar entered the CC+PR program in Jan. 2007. She loved learning about social media, media relations and PR writing. “I also loved copy editing because it comes naturally to me,” she adds.

Hillyar completed her field placement at Siren. She loved getting first-hand experience at a small agency. “The thing about interning here is that because there are only seven employees, the intern is essentially an account co-ordinator,” Hillyar explains. “Interns get to do things they wouldn’t be able to at bigger PR agencies, like lots of writing!”

Hillyar was kept on staff after her internship. “I went from being an intern to being a PR assistant, doing double duty,” Hillyar explains. “Then an opportunity opened up and I got hired as an account coordinator.” Hillyar recently got promoted to account manager, with the added responsibility of handling her own accounts.

Hillyar was fortunate enough to have a mentor when she started at Siren. “When I first started, an account director took me on and really helped me integrate into my role,” she recalls. “She really taught me how to apply what I learned at Centennial to my work at Siren.”

Aside from press tours, Hillyar has extensive media relations responsibilities. Hillyar believes that the CC+PR program really prepared her in dealing with the media. “In the media relations class they teach you how to look at the media from a new angle,” Hillyar says. “They teach you how to target the right audience.”

Hillyar admits that her job has been a learning experience, but feels Centennial gave her the skills to get started in her career.

Hillyar has a number of tips for those looking to get into the field of CC+PR. “Practice writing as much possible, and try to know as much as you can about your client,” she suggests. “Your contacts are everything, so networking is essential!”

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CC & PR grad tips the employability scale

Posted by bwaite on March 12, 2009


Grad Ashley Tilley

by Julia Salerno, Class of 2009

Landing a job was as easy as A-B-C for the recent Centennial graduate, Ashley Tilley. She credits the Corporate Communications and Public Relations program for her speedy transition into full-time employment.

As the communications co-ordinator for the ABC Literacy Foundation, Tilley puts to use the technical skills she learned at school. “I was taught a framework of skills and now I’m building on them,” Tilley said. “I use those skills everyday,” she furthered.

Tilley admits that she is relatively new to the PR biz. Although she doesn’t claim to know it all, she offers some tips that could help ease the transition from school to work. Her first tip: Write and write often. “It’s something you can never get enough practice doing,” she said. Whether it’s a press release or a website update, more than half of her day is spent writing.

Next on Tilley’s tip list is networking. “It’s important to establish contacts before you’re finished school; you never know who you’re going to meet, or where your going to end up,” Tilley recommended. The once timid networker assures that it gets easier with time. “Just try to remember that they’re probably feeling just as awkward as you are,” she suggested.

Tilley does a lot of networking for work and regrets not doing more while she was in school. “I volunteered with ABC when I was in school, a position opened up and that’s how I got hired,” Tilley said.

Her third tip: build your resume with volunteer experience. “It’ll give you an advantage over the competition,” Tilley said. “It’s a great way to gain valuable exposure before you enter the workforce,” she advised. Tilley measures her current success by recalling her Centennial experience.

“I left Centennial feeling confident and capable,” Tilley said. “I know that wherever my career takes me, I’ll always be prepared.”

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Grad Successful Entrepreneur

Posted by bwaite on January 8, 2009

By Nikki Kerimova, Class of 2010


Jennifer Beale graduated from the joint Centennial College and York University Public Relations and Corporate Communications program in 1997 and since then has carved out a unique career path for herself. Starting out in a PR agency, she eventually opened her own PR firm, Unleash PR.

With a staff of four people, no day is the same for this entrepreneur. Unleash PR represents experts in different areas in hopes of helping them help people. Beale uses the help of experts to achieve personal success. As she notes: “If you want success, you get people who are already successful [in that field] to get you there.”

She frequently takes workshops in different areas, to keep educating herself and stay on top of the field. She has never belonged to IABC or CPRS, finding that self education is most valuable. Beale also teaches a few workshops herself. “I teach them [the audience] in one day what took me ten years to learn.” In fact, Beale even takes workshops by the experts she represents as part of their payment.

Some of the experts she represents include ones that specialize in marketing, real estate and franchise. Her strategy is that surrounding oneself with experts makes her a mini expert in a few different fields. “When you have a problem, go and get the best person,” says Beale. That is the thinking behind her business.

Even though she has no formal training in business, Beale managed to make a six-figure income within five months of opening Unleash PR. This was done by hiring an expert who guided her business decisions. The next
move for Unleash PR is franchising, which is why Beale has recently attended franchising workshops and hanging out with a franchising expert. “I never wanted to manage people,” She decided, instead, to expand her business in a different way.

Beale reveals that she still has some materials from her Centennial days. One is a guideline that she uses to help her when leading seminars. Her job has taught her to incorporate everything she learned in school and working in agencies and to use that knowledge to create a successful PR firm. “I love being a businesswoman.”

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